This past weekend I was out paddling with by buddies Erik and Wilber here in Toronto on Lake Ontario. The three of us have been working with a group of intermediate paddlers introducing them to the wonders of late season paddling and the joys of rough water. It has been a lot of fun.

So, after several weekends of fairly calm conditions we decided to push the envelope a bit and take the group out in rougher water since the SW winds on the lake was finally bringing us really a nice 2.5-3 foot swell.

Out paddling in the rough water we had two people tip out into the water (not at the same time) and quickly got them back up and running again so there was lots of learning for everybody throughout the day. I know I walked away with some interesting insights and things that we should emphasise more so students are more prepared about rescues. Here they are in no particular order:


1) As instructors, we need to teach students that not to be a passive victim if you find yourself swimming.

For some reason we always teach swimmers take direction from the paddler in the kayak and not to take any action until she tells you to. That makes good sense from the perspective that it teaches the paddler how to take control and give directions in an emergency situation but the reality is that in real life conditions, if the swimmer is perfectly fine I believe they should take a more assertive role in helping the paddler help them. As rough water partners, both should know their roles and the steps to rectify the problem. It just speeds the whole thing up considerably.


2) We need to really, really, really drill home the idea of holding onto your gear and boat.

My students understand the concept but when they are floating in the waves everybody forgets about their paddle. The concept grabbing and keeping your stuff from floating away really needs to be drilled home, over and over again as you can’t swim faster than a boat blowing away. Never let go of your paddle or boat. Never.


3) Teach your students how to use their own paddle to swim faster.

If you need to move around in the water it’s way easier to use your paddle to help pull you through the water. This really rings true if you need to go any type of distance greater than 2-3 boat lengths. It’s also a lot easier then swimming with one hand and the paddle beside you so teach it to your students and they will thank you for it.

If you are not sure what I’m talking about here is a quick video I found demonstrating it.

What do you think instructors? Share your own tips or insights below.


Published in Teaching

Since I teach kayaking, I find myself often talking to students about weather and science behind weather forecasting. I used to always be nervous talking about weather since it can be one confusing monster to understand (let alone explain) and even the best meteorologists can get it wrong (especially when predicting your upcoming weekend weather).

Over the past several years, one of my goals has been to figure out ways to explain the science without overloading students with extremely technical descriptions or complex lectures. With that in mind I’m always on the lookout for new resources.

The other day I stumbled upon this really good video published by PBS that explains where wind comes from.  You should take a look.

Quick Teaching Tip: If you find yourself struggling to find resources or ways to communicate a particular theory topic (eg. navigation); focus on resources online that are aimed for teachers in elementary schools or kids themselves. The information is often presented in a more simplified style and the depth of knowledge is often just perfect for your students. For example, I found this amazing article that goes in a touch more depth about what causes wind and the influence temperature has on the weather machine.

Here's something that's pretty amazing: all of the tiny, invisible molecules that make up the air have weight. They don't weigh very much (you couldn't put one on your bathroom scale), but their weight adds up, because there are a LOT of molecules in the air that makes up our atmosphere.

All of that air is actually pretty heavy, so the air at the bottom of the atmosphere (like the air just above the ground) is getting pressed on by all of the air above it. That pressure pushes the air molecules at the bottom of the atmosphere a lot closer together than the air molecules at the top of the atmosphere.

And, because the air at the top of the atmosphere is pushing down on the air at the bottom of the atmosphere, the air molecules at the bottom REALLY want to spread out. So if there is an area where the air molecules are under high pressure (with a lot of weight pushing down), the air will spread out into areas that are under lower pressure (with less weight pushing down).

Don't forget that there is also a pile of free teaching resources available for your taking over in the resource area here at the Headquarters so start clicking!

Flickr Image Credit: Peter Mulligan

Published in Teaching

One of the toughest challenges for canoe or kayak instructors is to teach with another partner. This could be with a stranger that you have just met at a symposium or a fellow staff member at your local paddling school or club.

On the surface it seems to be a simple matter, after all you are only talking half the time but the reality is that more teaching disasters take place as soon as you add in a the second instructor. Like a complex dance routine, you need work together in harmony to ensure that your students are learning effectively.

Here is a very small selection of some of the crazy stories or situations I witnessed over the years:

  • Verbal arguments in front of students on the proper way to teach something as simple as the forward sweep.
  • Once teaching with two other instructors in a large group, one of the instructors decided to jump out of his boat in the middle of a class to give an impromptu lesson on how to stay cool on the water. All this happened while the other instructor was teaching the draw stroke. Totally derailed the lesson.
  • I heard of an instructor who once decided to arbitrarily change the lesson plan half way through the morning and announced on the spot that it would be more effective for him if he just took half the students and split the group.
  • I once took over my co-instructors boat design lesson because I really, really, really wanted to share some newfound knowledge. He was pissed and I still feel bad about it. Sorry Andrew!

Here are a bunch of random tips and ideas to help make teaching with another instructor a whole lot more fun:

  •  Meet before the class and map out exactly who is responsible for what elements of the lesson. This is critical and I can’t stress this enough. Even if you are one of those types who can teach on the fly, deciding who is teaching what during the actual lesson is not only unprofessional but a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
  • If you are not on stage teaching the stroke, keep you’re your trap shut. Students can only learn from one person at a time so show your co-instructor some respect and let her teach the lesson.
  • Check your ego at the door. Co-teaching is about sharing the spotlight so out of the way and don’t hog the attention.
  • Unless the lesson is sinking out of site or there is a danger to the class, don’t take over the lesson unless invited. Everybody has a bad day on the water or maybe it’s the first time teaching the skill and very nervous. Let them learn from the experience while you look for a place during a break in the conversation to gently help out.
  • When done your teaching segment always provide an opportunity for fellow instructors to add their tips at the end. That’s a good place for them to come in and add last minute tips or show another way to do the skill.
  • Like a car can’t have two drivers, you need to figure out who is going to run the lesson plan. The lesson plan driver takes the roll of dishing out the tasks and keeping everybody on time.
  • Finally, remember to share the teaching love. If you have new assistants out there helping you so make sure you give them a chance to do some teaching and build up their experience.
  • When you are done, a quick debrief about what worked and what didn’t will really help the next time you teach together.


You have a teaching tip? Share it in the comments below. 

Published in Teaching

American Canoe Association Logo

If you are a canoe or kayak instructor make sure you check out the latest issue of the American Canoe Associations, Journal of Paddlesport Education.

The Journal is a fantastic resource filled with tips and ideas to make your teaching easier and more fun.

Here is the description on the ACA website:

The Journal of Paddlesport Education is a monthly electronic newsletter from the Safety Education & Instruction Department that provides valuable information to paddlesport Instructors, Clubs and Affiliates.

From intriguing articles to new initiatives, updated course curricula, and policy changes, the monthly JPE newsletter is a primary tool for professional paddlesport development and disseminating pertinent information.

Published in Teaching

Teaching can be a real double edge sword. On one hand you get the excitement of showing your students the coolest things about paddling but on the other hand if you are teaching a certification course you sometimes have to face the fact that not all your students will pass.

I know there are readers out there who argue that organized certification programs might not the best environment to learn under and feel that that long-term peer-to-peer teaching and mentoring are better models for learning. While there are good arguments that different types of learning work for different people, lets set that conversation aside for another day as I want to focus on the thousands of certification courses run over the season.

One of the good things about organized certification courses offered by groups like the American Canoe Association, Paddle Canada or the British Canoe Union is that they offer a clear syllabus with learning outcomes at each level. The benefit is that it provides a clear benchmark for the student to see how their their personal skills line up with the overall program. It also provides clear stepping stones of success as they work their way up the certification ladder.

It’s human nature that every paddling instructor wants their students to succeed but sometimes you do all you can and still the the student still comes up short. For an instructor, telling somebody that they didn’t meet the requirements of the certification level can be one of the hardest things. Over the years I have seen fellow instructors break down in tears after giving the news and I once heard of a coach in the US who gave up teaching instructor courses for several years after one particularly upsetting encounter.

Below are a couple of tips and random thoughts to help soften the blow of giving the bad news to your students:

Think of Possible Options
What options do you have to work with? Some programs the only option is to pass or fail the student while others provide the option of a conditional pass for some levels. Conditional passes can be a great option as they allow the student to walk away and work on the one or two skills then come back for testing at a later date. They work great for students who are so close to success but not quite there. Conditional passes do require extra responsibilities on your part as well as a commitment to work with the student down the road long after the course is completed.

Other possible options could be to go and take some specific coaching lessons? Do you know any instructors in the students neighbourhood you could send them to for extra training then another assessment later in the season?

Why did they originally sign-up?
I like to find out at the start of the course the students goals and objectives for signing up and make a mental note of it. Often students are just there to learn and have no interest in the certification aspect of the course. If they don’t care then that might change how you approach the overall conversation.

Prepare Your Student Early
If you have a feeling that your student isn’t going to meet the certification requirements it’s in your best interest to plant the seed with them that you are concerned. You owe it to them to be honest and it would be really unfair if they walked into a certification debrief thinking they were passing when they weren’t.

Document Everything
If a student is not going to pass, make sure you document specific instances in the course or specific skills that lead to the decision and be prepared to show them to the student. Having clear documentation will give you a stronger foundation to stand on for students who try to argue or try convince you to change your mind. The reality is that you should be documenting the skills learned and students progression but it’s important that you pay close attention to struggling students.

You Need to Have a Tangible Reason
It’s critical that you have a tangible reason why the student can’t complete the course. An example of a tangible reason is the he can’t roll his kayak when it’s a required skill to pass. An example of a poor reason is that you have a “feeling” that the student is unsafe on the water. You need provide clear an irrefutable evidence and examples.

It’s Not Over for Paddling
As much as they are disappointed, remind them that not getting the certification card isn’t the end of the world as they still learned a pile of stuff throughout the course and they still have the skills to enjoy a day out on the water and that’s way more important then a card that eventually ends in their dresser drawer. They can always come back and either take the course again. Talk to your boss and find out if there would be discounted charge for them to come back at a later date to challenge the test again.

Be Transparent and Develop and Assessment Sheet
Make sure your assessment process is transparent and fair as possible. Develop an assessment sheet to make your notes on and give a photocopy to the students when they leave. The American Canoe Association has an excellent example of an assessment sheet that you can use. If you don’t teach the ACA program, you could develop a similar one for your self.

Work with the student to develop a plan of action for success in the future
If you tell your student, “Sorry you failed. See yeah.” there is a 100% chance they are going to quit paddling and take up golf the next day. Instead, work with the student during the course debrief to develop an action plan so they know the next steps and what they need to work on for success next time.

I hope that this helps with your future courses. If you have ideas I missed, add them to the comments section below. Special thanks to @bryanhansel, @elements_eu_ltd and @KayakToTheSea for their great suggestions for this article.

Published in Teaching

Last week I got sent on a training course for work on how to manage information technology. The only thing that made the day interesting was watching the course instructor try to control his class and deal with a very dominating student. Within the first 10 minutes of the course starting the student took over the class with inappropriate interjections, challenging the instructor and asking a large number of questions (9 in 10 minutes).

As I watched the instructor struggle to regain control; I started to think about how I would possibility handle the same difficult scenario if it presented itself in one of my kayaking classes.

Here are a couple of random thoughts on dealing with two different types of difficult adult students.

1) The, I-have-a-million-questions-to-ask student
Don’t let student questions take over the lesson plan. If you have a student that likes to ask lots of questions not specific to what you are teaching at the moment (but planning to cover later), don’t fall into the time-eating trap of explaining your material twice. If it’s going to be covered later defer it until then if possible. Think of your other students and don’t let them get confused or frustrated by jumping around topics. Try to stick to your overall lesson plan and address the question later.

Change your teaching style. Paddling instructors often use an interactive and informal teaching style when on the water but sometimes that doesn’t work if you are constantly getting interrupted. Quietly change over to more lecture style teaching to get through the material with specific points throughout for questions and discussion. It can help save time and keep the lesson moving.

As a last resort (and using your best kid-gloves), tell your class to hold all questions until a set time for questions as it will help keep the flow of the lesson going.

Canoe Instruction at Sunnyside

2) The, I-Know-More-Than-You Student
Ever had a student who challenges or argues constantly you? “That’s not how so and so taught me how to do it…” or “In my 12 years of paddling I did it this way…” It can be really frustrating for the instructor when a student starts undermining your lesson.

A good way to defuse the challenger (at least what works for me) is to explain to the whole group that there are several different ways to do the taught skill and this is a new technique that you want to show everybody. It seems to work well as it acknowledges the students past experience yet also tells the other students there might be better ways to do it.

Also, if you are teaching a skill that seems to always draws out lots of opinions (I’m looking at you rescue practice!) then do a pre-emptive strike at the beginning acknowledging there are several different ways and this is just one of many techniques. Trust me; this really helps in defusing that argumentative soul.

If you have a student who just keeps arguing with you that your technique is wrong and their technique is way better, remember that you are both adults and you are the professional. Ask yourself if it really matters to argue and fight with the student to force them to do it your way. If it’s something that is required from a certification point of view then I make them aware that they need to demonstrate the skill to the cert standard but certification or safety isn’t an issue is it really necessary to fight with them? Only you will know; but over the years I have seen co-instructors continue to argue with students long after I felt that they could have dropped the issue.

Remember that confidence is one key to success in dealing with difficult personalities. You are in charge and its your lesson, your students, your timeline and your material so don’t let the train get off the tracks. If you do see a potential train wreck, stop the conversation or questions and promise to follow-up at a more appropriate time like lunch. Your other students will thank you for it.

So how did we all survive the technology training course from last week? Well the instructor quickly lost his confidence and was stumbling to get things back on track. It wasn’t until another student stood up and took control that things got sorted out. She told the, “I-have-a-question” student that she was acting inappropriately and reminded her that it was a general course and to stop hijacking the lesson with her own personal agenda. Yes there was some yelling. Not the most polite way to deal with it but it got the job done and made an extremely boring morning way more interesting.

Looking for more teaching resources? Here are several resources for download on how to be a better instructor

Top Photo Credit: Intro to Surf Lesson by Joel Cooper. / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Bottom Photo Credit: Canoe Instruction at Sunnyside by Bobcatnorth / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Published in Teaching

Bow Rescue

The Bow-rescue video posted on Paddling TV this past week is pretty decent. It clearly demonstrates the key steps to this quick and dirty rescue but there are a couple of suggestions I would make to the demonstrators to make their rescue quicker and more reliable.

Published in Teaching

Canoe Instruction at Sunnyside

We have all been there. There is only an hour left in your lesson but you have two hours of material left to teach. Where did the time go?

A sign of a good instructor is the ability to keep on top of your lesson plan and finish things off in the allotted amount of time. With one eye on the students and the other on her watch, the instructor can keep the lesson going without getting flustered or stressed that she behind schedule.

Below is a set of random tips and ideas to help you manage your time while out teaching this summer:

Lesson Planning

  • Write your lesson plan out on paper in a chronological order throughout the day so you don’t need to waste time trying to find your place while on the water.
  • When planning your lessons, be realistic in how long something is going to take or learn. Travel and paddle time always takes longer then you think and don’t forget to take into account wind and a beginners paddling pace.


Teaching Time

  • Streamline housekeeping. If your students need to fill out paperwork at the beginning of the course encourage them to get there early to take care of it before the course starts. As students finish up their paperwork use that time to learn names and morning expectations.
  • Set realistic time expectations with your students. Let them know how much time they have for lunch so they are back on time. Tell them your goal is to be on the water in x number of minutes so they know if they have time to find that last minute item in the trunk of their car.
  • Watch your travel time on the water as it eats up a lot of time very quickly. Don’t move your class unless you need to.
  • Getting on and off the water always takes twice as long as you think it does (did I mention that before?).
  • Try to teach your on-land segments at the same time (just before or just after lunch) to minimize water/land transition time.
  • If you need to paddle for a short distance to your planned teaching location, watch and lean how long it takes. It’s important to know how long the paddle home is going to take!
  • Take advantage of class downtime for quick mini lessons. For example, lunchtime is a great time for a fast weather or safety lesson.
  • When your students are off practising their newly learned skill take a moment look ahead in your lesson plan to figure out what’s next. That will help keep the lesson momentum from stalling out.
  • Watch your mouth. If you are running out of time it’s likely because you are talking too much. Start with the goal to cut your talking down by half then go from there.
  • If your class runs over two days, hand out homework for them to read. It’s great for theory topics and other easily digestible material.
  • If you realize you are running out of time and can’t teach everything in your lesson quickly prioritize and teach only what you can. Is there anything that you can get students to read or learn via a follow-up email later?
  • At the end of the day make note of what worked and what took more time then you thought. This will allow you to properly adjust your schedule as necessary next time.

Got other time saving ideas? Post them in the comments area below.

Photo credit: Canoe Instruction at Sunnyside / Bobcatnorth (Away) / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Published in Teaching
Whitewater RollingI recently stumbled onto which describes itself as, "an open forum with the goal of bringing together different instruction methods in an effort to advance the overall theory of whitewater instruction".

On the site you will find lots of articles and video related specifically to whitewater instruction and technique.
Published in Resources
By L. Dee Fink
Reprinted from the University of Oklahoma Instructional Development Program, July 19, 1999

Many teachers today want to move past passive learning to active learning, to find better ways of engaging students in the learning process. But many teachers feel a need for help in imagining what to do, in or out of class, that would constitute a meaningful set of active learning activities.
Published in Coaching

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